As a student of ecology it has always flummoxed me that the school year as such does not align with the seasons in such a way that creatures of various kinds can be studied while in their prime. At least this is so in the northern temperate and polar zones.
And so summer is the time to train up the next generation of reformed environmentalists. I have had the good pleasure of doing this locally through the brick and mortar school where I teach, Logos School. You should organize one of these at your school or homeschool coop if it does not already exist.
The first step in building up this generation as “Reformed” environmentalists is getting them out and comfortable exploring natural and wild areas. Too much time has been spent on learning about nature from PBS Kids or via an iPhone or Android app. Kids need to sweat and get bit by mosquitoes and stung by stinging nettles.
In addition to needing “time in the field,” today’s youth have a knowledge scale deficiency. They have a broad understanding of the environmental sciences on a global level. They know more about coral reefs than the boomers, but this understanding does not translate into deeper local knowledge. Youth landscape and ecology knowledge is shockingly thin and very much lacking at the local level where relationship to the land is most crucial. The boomers know the land they inhabited as youth and they know it first-hand. I remember my Dad telling me about exploring caves where he spent much of his childhood near Front Royal, Virginia.
If you need some empirical evidence to substantiate this claim I highly recommend, Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv. In it he details the negative consequences of a childhood devoid of free exploration of nature.
The camps I did were very simple. The first consisted completely of three morning outings (4-6 hours each) to different nearby natural areas. Students ranged from 11-14 years old. They brought binoculars, water, snacks, and field guides. We explored each area keying in on birds and plants for observation and identification. Many of these kids were first time naturalists or birders. Our list of species from this year is here:Logos Natural History Camp Species List 2021-2.
For plant field guides we used the following, as Northern Idaho has a very similar climate and plant community to coastal Oregon and Washington: 1)Plants of the Pacific Northwest; 2) Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest. The best guide for birds is, of course, Sibley’s Western guide but any others will do. It’s always fun to see the variety of field guides that the kids bring. They all have some strengths and weaknesses.
I have gotten quite a few requests for an adult version of this camp, which I am considering for next year.
NEXT POST: Outdoor Skills Camp
NOTE: If the title “Reformed Environmentalist” is offensive to you, I will be making the case why I think this kind of title is necessary in an upcoming post.